Nav: Home

Hurricanes affecting Puerto Rico reveal the serious crisis the country is experiencing

November 08, 2019

In the autumn of 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed Puerto Rico causing thousands of deaths, illnesses and suffering, which brought about a situation of serious economic, political and public health crisis, and widespread death and destruction. However, neither the US nor the Puerto Rican government reacted adequately to such a grave situation.

A scientific paper published recently in the journal Social Science & Medicine by researchers from UPF and the University of Puerto Rico discusses how this disaster has revealed the need to assess the critical social and environmental situation affecting the country and to study the underlying socioeconomic and political factors that contribute to aggravating the problems caused by hurricanes.

According to Joan Benach, a researcher with the Health Inequalities Research Group, Ecology - Employment Conditions Network (GREDS-EMCONET) of the Department of Political and Social Sciences at UPF and first author of the article, "the destruction caused by a 'natural' disaster associated with the climate emergency is not only an environmental-type cause, rather it should be understood as an eco-social phenomenon".

The work, which is also signed by Eliana Martínez-Herrera and Juan Manuel Pericàs (GREDS-EMCONET), together with Marinilda Rivera Díaz and Nylca J. Muñoz, researchers, respectively, of the College of Social Sciences and of the School of Public Health at the University of Puerto Rico, critically and thoroughly scrutinizes Puerto Rican history and its colonial relationship with the United States in order find out what the root causes of this situation are and what future awaits the country.

Colonial and neoliberal policies, the main problem

According to Joan Benach, "the root of the problem lies mainly in the absence of appropriate socioeconomic policies to foresee and adapt to hurricanes, due to the application over decades of colonial and neoliberal policies. The root causes of the serious socioeconomic crisis that Puerto Rico is experiencing, aggravated by hurricanes, must be sought in colonialism and the lack of political sovereignty".

For the UPF researcher, other factors influencing the crisis are neoliberal policies, which cause poverty and inequality, unemployment, insecurity, migration and poor quality housing, and the lack of social and health services, among other aspects.

"If these policies associated with exploitation, domination, repression and racism do not change, the environmental impacts that can be expected in the near future will worsen the already bad situation with more damage, suffering and disease", Joan Benach assures.

Reversing the situation and seeking solutions

The article reveals that, according to experts, due to the climate crisis, over the coming decades there will be an increase in torrential rain episodes and other environmental disasters in the country, with more intense, more persistent hurricanes. This may lead Puerto Rico and the Caribbean to be subjected to increasingly frequent meteorological disasters, which could lead to a prolonged state of emergency.

The paper proposes several spearheads to change this situation. On the one hand, the scientific challenge of generating more information and analysis to enable visualizing and describing in detail the evolving social and geographical situation and understanding the causes and effects; on the other, the political challenge of reversing the social and environmental situation by means of a drastic change of the neoliberal and colonial policies that seriously affect people's life, health and equity.

"The first step to tackle these challenges is to prevent blindness and impotence; the second, is to develop sustained collective action to raise public awareness and incite the social movements needed to force a drastic change in government leadership. Finally, the institutions must be democratized and inequality de-institutionalized", the researchers conclude.

Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Barcelona

Related Public Health Articles:

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Bloomberg American Health Initiative releases special public health reports supplement
With US life expectancy now on the decline for two consecutive years, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is releasing a supplement to Public Health Reports, the scholarly journal of the US Surgeon General.
Data does the heavy lifting: Encouraging new public health approaches to promote the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE)
According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, almost 75 percent of US adults do not comply with public health guidelines recommending two or more muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) sessions a week, with nearly 60 percent of the population doing no MSE at all.
The Lancet Public Health: Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health
Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fats from plant sources associated with lower risk of mortality compared to those that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fat from animal sources.
Mass. public safety, public health agencies collaborate to address the opioid epidemic
A new study shows that public health and public safety agencies established local, collaborative programs in Massachusetts to connect overdose survivors and their personal networks with addiction treatment, harm reduction, and other community support services following a non-fatal overdose.
Cyber attacks can threaten public health
Gordon and Landman have authored a Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that addresses the growing threat of attacks on information systems and the potential implications on public health.
Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Public health experts celebrate 30 years of CDC's prevention research solutions for communities with health disparities
It has been 30 years since CDC created the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program, currently a network of 26 academic institutions across the US dedicated to moving new discoveries into the communities that need them.
More Public Health News and Public Health Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Accessing Better Health
Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#544 Prosperity Without Growth
The societies we live in are organised around growth, objects, and driving forward a constantly expanding economy as benchmarks of success and prosperity. But this growing consumption at all costs is at odds with our understanding of what our planet can support. How do we lower the environmental impact of economic activity? How do we redefine success and prosperity separate from GDP, which politicians and governments have focused on for decades? We speak with ecological economist Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Propserity, and author of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab